7 months ago

Where (And Why) To See Jazz in Ireland


The JAZZ NIGHT is enjoying a mini-revival, with audiences getting younger and musical tastes expanding …

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

If you knew where to look, you could find high-quality jazz in Ireland in the 1980s. Dublin’s oldest jazz club JJ’s on Aungier Street (closed and sold to a property developer in 2017) hosted local and international acts for years. The annual Cork Jazz Festival is over 40 years old. But Ireland’s jazz scene was small and mostly for the cognoscenti.

These days it’s easier to find, with several bars and clubs recently adding jazz nights to their roster and artists open to fusion and a blurring of genres, which broadens the appeal and the audience for jazz. Though still lagging behind other European countries (we don’t have any dedicated venues) there’s a palpable jazziness in the air right now, ticket sales are up, and audiences in bars and clubs here are ready to listen, with existing and emerging talent ready to respond.

Why go? The magic of a live jazz gig is that what is produced has never been and never will be played again. Musical ideas are tossed around the ensemble, dissected, reflected, played with. Irish audiences like the connection live jazz brings. Go to Sunday Jazz at the Big Romance in Parnell Street or Arthur’s Pub in the Liberties, and you’ll see a rapt audience of all ages.

Streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube are expanding our tastes and making jazz more accessible. Marketing has improved with organisations promoting jazz, such as the Improvised Music Company (IMC), successfully reaching out to not only jazz fans but people who just want to attend an interesting and different live performance.

Aoife Concannon, creative director of the IMC, says that the internet has expanded our tastes and, with pop music becoming increasing bland and overly produced, the rawness and realness of jazz and other experimental music is becoming attractive. “More Irish people are seeking authentic live cultural experiences, and there is nothing more live than jazz, which by its very nature is often improvised music – the interplay of musicians and action onstage can be fascinating,” she explains.

The regional festival scene is also thriving and the live jazz Sunday brunch is becoming more popular. Director of the Galway Jazz festival and Purple Vespertine presenter on Lyric FM Ellen Cranitch says this initial exposure can encourage people to seek out more. “The Sunday brunch can be the gateway into jazz. People like it and may decide to see more or go to a festival.”

Bert’s Bar, 16 Skipper Street, Belfast.

Jazz has been in a state of flux since emerging from New Orleans in the early 1900s. Charlie Parker mixed Afro-Cuban music with bebop in the 1940s, Herbie Hancock fused jazz funk and rock in the 1970s. But recently, its fluid nature has gone up a notch. Now, it’s mixed with hip-hop, rock, classical music, dance, house and everything in between. In line with trends in the US and the UK there has been a move away from the jazz standard in Ireland with musicians creating their own language. Some at the forefront are drummer Sean Carpio, guitarist Mike Neilsen, harpist Una Monaghan, pianist and organist Scott Flanigan, Redivider and The Michael Buckley band. International artists mixing up sounds, like British outfits Dinosaur, GoGo Penguin and Snarky Puppy, Danish Phronesis and LA-based Thundercat and Kamasi Washington, attract a discerning Irish audience. Acts like GoGo Penguin, having played the Sugar Club in Dublin a few times, can now fill a larger venue like the National Concert Hall.

Jazz musicians moving to Dublin to study and work, such as Palestinian-Irish vocalist Ruba Shamshoum or Japanese pianist Izumi Kimura, are also bringing their own music and culture. The internet helps promote crossover/experimental artists at home and abroad, like Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan, who developed a strong online profile which resulted in him playing the National Concert Hall earlier this year.

Linley Hamilton, who plays the trumpet and presents BBC Radio Ulster’s Jazzworld, says Irish musicians today are better trained, with improved courses at university level. They are more proactive, taking masterclasses and designing workshops, with social media making it easier to connect and collaborate with musicians further afield. London-based Irish vocalist and composer Lauren Kinsella recently toured Ireland with her outfit Snowpoet and says the audience reaction was wonderful. “We had such a warm and engaging reception in Ireland – they gave us everything. The connection that lies between musicians and audiences is crucial. It’s important never to underestimate that.”

What to wear? Think Kate Moss emerging from Ronnie Scotts in a long black dress with a gold belt. Musicians on stage now are just as likely to be in a tracksuit as a suit and tie, but it doesn’t mean we have to drop our standards.

Where to see jazz

Bert’s Bar, Belfast – seven nights a week

Crane Lane Theatre, Cork – every Tuesday

Bennigan’s Bar, Derry – weekly session

Billy Byrnes, Kilkenny – weekly sofa session

Arthur’s Pub, Thomas Street, Dublin 8 – weekly sessions

The International Bar, Dublin 2 – weekly sessions on Tuesday and Thursdays

Bewleys Jazz Brunch, Grafton Street, Dublin 2 – weekends

The Wild Duck, Temple Bar – The Signal monthly series

The Big Romance, Parnell Street, Dublin 1 – Sunday jazz

Mary McCarthy

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